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More Numbers, More Problems

Posted Aug 24 2008 6:44pm
As if selecting healthy options at the supermarket didn't already involve sufficient figures and calculations, a curveball has been thrown into the mix -- "grams of whole grains".

When this trend first started in early 2007, I inwardly cringed and hoped for its quick disappearance.

Far from it -- I keep seeing it on more and more products!

It is my suspicion that with whole grains and fiber being the latest hot topics, food manufacturers hope to confuse shoppers looking to increase their fiber intake by boasting about the grams of whole grains in their foods -- two very different concepts.

So, consider this your "advertiser proof" tutorial on whole grains.

Let's start at the beginning.

More specifically, the United States Department of Agriculture food pyramid (which was reborn as MyPyramid in 2005 after Public Relations firm Porter Novellis -- which has also collaborated with McDonald's & Mars Co. -- had its way with it).

According to that food pyramid, healthy adults on a 2,000 calorie diet should consume 6 servings of grains.

The USDA defines a serving of grains as one ounce (28 grams). Remember this tidbit, it will come in handy very shortly.

MyPyramid distinctly calls for half of those 6 grain servings to be whole (i.e: oatmeal, brown rice, whole wheat cous cous, barley, etc.), rather than enriched (i.e.: white bread, white rice, etc.)

Strangely, the recommendation isn't "three or more," but simply "three."

This is where it all starts to get confusing.

If one ounce is equal to 28 grams, and we are asked to make three grain servings (AKA three ounces) whole, then it logically follows that our whole grain intake should add up to 84 grams (28 x 3).

Well, not quite.

Look up whole grain serving recommendations, and you'll see a daily suggestion of 48 grams.

Perform some simple math and you figure out that one whole grain serving is equal to 16 grams (48 grams divided by 3 servings a day = 16 grams per serving).

Wait, but isn't a one-ounce serving of grains equal to 28 grams, according to MyPyramid? So shouldn't one ounce of whole grains also be 28 grams?

Yes, but the majority of grain products weighing 28 grams (1 ounce) contain a variety of ingredients; not just flour.

It turns out, in fact, that a single one-ounce grain serving packs in approximately 16 grams of flour.

So, although that entire slice of whole wheat bread clocks in at 28 grams (1 ounce), 16 of those grams are flour.

The rest? A combination of salt, sugars, water, and other miscellaneous ingredients.

Although food labels do not list grams of whole grains, you have two ways of finding this information out.

One is by claims on the packaging (such as the "Now with 5 grams of whole grains per serving!" stated on boxes of Teddy Grahams).

Usually, though, these claims are made by products that sprinkle a little whole wheat flour on top of a product that is virtually refined grains.

Considering that you need at least 48 grams a day, 5 grams is a pretty pathetic figure to bother writing about in such large font.

The other is via the Whole Grains Council stamp (pictured at top left), which specifically lists the grams of whole grains per serving in a product.

Some companies are still using old versions of the stamp, which classified foods as "good" (8 - 15 grams of whole grains per serving) or "excellent" (16 or more grams of whole grains per serving).

I love the Whole Grain Council stamp -- it really separates the real deals from the wannabes.

With it, you can spot the cereals providing almost 48 grams of whole grains in just one serving! Talk about bang for your buck.

By the way, starting this year, the Whole Grains Council is teaming up with restaurants across the country to help you spot whole grain dishes !

What about fiber? How does it tie into all this?

An item high in whole grains is high in fiber, but products high in fiber are not necessarily high in whole grains.

An Atkins chocolate peanut butter bar, for instance, contains a whopping 10 grams of fiber.

Since this is a low-carb bar, you certainly won't find whole wheat flour anywhere on the ingredient list.

So how is this value achieved? Thanks to a polysaccharide known as cellulose.

Keep in mind that while this kind of fiber helps keep things moving, there are specific substactes in whole grains that have been targeted in nutrition research as helpful in reducing the risk of several diseases.

So, how do you put all this together without going insane?

Simple. Try to consume 25 - 30 grams of fiber every day, and make sure you are including at least three servings of whole grains to your day.

You can keep it simple by thinking of each serving as a half cup of oatmeal, brown rice, whole wheat cous cous, whole wheat pasta, or one slice of a bread which has "whole [insert grain here] flour" as its first ingredient.

If you're ever lost, look for the Whole Grains Council stamp to guide you.

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